Cary Gibson – Something Unexpected

Here is the lovely story from Cary Gibson at Tenx9’s November event, “Something Unexpected”

How I Discovered A 14 Syllable Synonym For Love.

 :: For Joel ::

The 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins – a political manifesto about the dangers of unfettered capitalism on the human soul – is also a story about the power of imaginative language to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.,

Crucially, it’s discussion of the word, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” instructs us,

So when the cat has got your tongue
There’s no need for dismay
Just summon up this word
And then you’ve got a lot to say

But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl’s me wife!

You may think this story hasn’t begun. It has. Hearing the story, as you imagine it, it becomes fiction and yet, no less the real for it.

Our story begins – once upon a time – the 20 May 1845 to be exact –

the day Robert Browning met Elizabeth Barrett. The courtship and marriage between these two writers was carried out secretly & by correspondence, fearing, quite rightly, that her father would disapprove. Is that true? Surely every story, once it’s told and retold, is a fable.

This story has no ending. Not yet.

If we get our wish, the ending will be fatal. Because like every love story, it will in time, one way or another, become tragedy.

This story might prove that endings are rarely endings, because unless something horrifically unexpected happens, one of us will still be here to keep telling our story.

I told our story to a woman at a party and she responded, “What a wonderful tale to tell your children.”

I don’t have any children. If I were to, well, that would certainly be something unexpected. The true story already becoming fiction – being told to children born of another’s imagination.

Ours is a story about stories & the love of stories. And the love of a very blurred line where fact and fiction meet… of embracing everything as true. Everything.

And how stories are like maps. And that the only true map would be a map on a scale of one to one: an exact replica of the place being mapped. Because when we put things into words we fall short of the truth.  A story is an impartial map. And everything is fiction.

Where else could I begin?

Where and when we met?

Where we declared love for one another?

Or, where and when we fell into love?

The first one is easy. It’s a fixed point in time and space. We met at a breakfast table. In 1998.

But the second question – that’s a little more tricky – for we were in hindsight telling each other we loved one another in so many ways before he, and certainly before I realized it. So that when he did declare it, I was shocked.

So, when did we fall in love?

That really is impossible to tell.

You’d think it was easy. Because we have pages – that run into the hundreds. Each one dated, time stamped. They tell the story of what we came to call “asynchronous symbiosis”. He in one time zone, me in another. Emails sent back and forth, across an ocean, over several months.

Those letters – contained a story. A story we wrote together, in the form of a map. A map of what we called, “the canon.” The canon, contained,  & made everything in it, real.

We fell down a rabbit hole, or perhaps jumped into a chalk picture on a pavement, that took us to a place just left of Narnia, our letters growing increasingly frequent and fervent: ‘the canon’ mapped fidelity with Ray Bradbury’s wedding vow, ‘to always love dinosaurs’, an exploration of wonder was led by Doctor Who, an invitation to pay attention by Sherlock Holmes, persistence was found in Neverwhere, & comics, hegemony was in The Matrix, or the Inklings. Political interviews danced with poetry, which rhymed with history, which argued with doctrine and laughed at certainty.

The stories shared over days, weeks, months were being added to an imaginative wiki – in which nothing gets left out and everything is interlinked, connected by dotted lines…

And somewhere in the midst of that map, we began to write ourselves.

Letters (written weekly, then twice weekly, then daily, then twice daily) wove our  own stories with every story written since Homer’s Odyssey – to name just a few – marked in invisible ink where you and me, was becoming “us”.

Because reading those letters I cannot tell where we slipped from friendship and respect into shared meaning making and then flourished into mutuality, particularity, intentionality, fidelity, and continuance… LOVE.

So, perhaps we’ll say that, ‘This is how it happened…’

That on the 12th September 2009, my friend was on his way to a family wedding in Texas.

The night before he’d been out for dinner with a friend and after cycling home in pouring rain, sent me a poem – A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford, which opens,


If you don’t know the kind of person I am,

and I don’t know the kind of person you are,

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home, we may miss our star.

I woke in Dublin to that mail and sitting at my writing desk, I sent back a response to say that his nephew was marrying his bride on the anniversary of the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, whose story of tragedy and hope is the source of some of the most famous lines in English romantic poetry…

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Barrett’s 43rd sonnet was appropriate for a wedding day. But this is what I then wrote to him:

Barrett & Browning also have significance because they surely are now living happily forever in the land that was created, and everyday grows and breathes, with the words and spirit of personal correspondence. A part of the canon-map that is as real and true and significant to that world of words as the terrain made from poems or audio-plays or novels.

(I like to think it is reached by mail-coach. And to reach that genre, one passes through cities built with office managers’ post-it notes and memos. Cities, which are saved from being eternally grey cold edifices because they are decorated by notes from loving spouses and children’s paintings sneakily slipped into briefcases on Monday mornings.

The city parks trees are made of the quotes and ideas and vacation postcards that are stuck on fridges. And standing atop soap boxes on the street corners, orators entertain and inspire passers-by with recitations of mottos from magnets – no longer tired clichés but spoken each time as if it were the first, and heard with eternally new ears.


And the land beyond – that is built on personal letters exchanged between families and lovers and friends and strangers kept apart by distance, and estrangement and war and prison walls – is spoken of by those who visit it as the most breathtaking place they ever saw:

Carved from such raw, unedited, deep emotions of love and fear and patience and hope that its majestic beauty is almost too much to bear. That’s the place where Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning dwell.)

A few short hours later, in Nashville, after very little sleep, his shoes not yet dry, and rushing to get to the airport for his flight to Dallas, he wrote back a brief, confessional note that irrevocably altered everything, with this closing line,

‘Love, which I’m using very cary-fully, and which is definitely changing my life’



Faced with this imaginative declaration verging on a proposal, written only for me, in canonical terms that were unmistakably acknowledging I was already in some deep sense, his girl, I’d like to say I reacted with eloquence.

But I could only muster a hurried,


Holy crap, Batman.


Followed by 6 smiley faces.


Yes. That probably covers whatever words fail me right now…


Never have I felt the weight of the phrase,

“I think we are on the same page…” and am struck by the weight of it and

with speechlessness, which also seems to put us on something like the same page.


I just realized I have no map. I hope you packed crayons and some paper….

With the engine running outside, suitcase packed, he responded,


I do have a map. With lots of dotted lines. And boxes and boxes of

crayons, all of which are also, yours.


Kari Hoffman – Something Unexpected

Kari’s story about aging at our November Tenx9 event at Cafe Coco. 

This all started about 10 or 12 years ago  – and it was unexpected alright! Not sudden or exactly surprising not like a car wreck or someone dying young or an evil clown popping out of a box at a birthday party. No, of all the unexpected even shocking things that have ever happened to me the most unexpected thing I’ve ever experienced is the exact opposite of dying young. The most unexpected and shocking thing that has ever happened to me ever, ever up to this very night, is happening right now, is the fact that it’s my birthday and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m old. I am. I looked it up on the internet and according to the accepted definitions (which must be true if they were on the internet) I’m hardly even middle-aged anymore. I’m pretty much headed out the far side of middle age and into elderly land. Well maybe you’re not shocked, it’s not unexpected to you – you’ve never seen me any other way. But you haven’t been along for the ride.

So when this story (somewhat arbitrarily, I admit) starts or shall we not say starts but when we step into the story I am 20 something. It is summer. Those glorious summers when you were in school and could skip class or had some crappy menial job you didn’t mind quitting at the drop of a hat or being fired from if an invitation to something or anything the least bit interesting came your way. Good economy, believe it or not – there was always another crappy menial job to be had at the drop of that very same hat.

So this particular summer my parents are off on a road trip headed for a reunion of sorts with my father’s siblings, my aunt and uncles and their spouses. They’re going to stay at in inn in Connecticut where one of my aunts works as the manager. It’s summer and I am… in between . It’s so long ago I can’t really recall exactly what I was between or why. Between dropping in and out of school? Between some of those crappy jobs? Between lovers? All of those circumstances were rather common for me in those days so you’ll forgive my mental lapse at the exact details.  I’m elderly – what can I say? I’m between and my parents are going to stay at a lovely inn in Connecticut and there you have it  – a plan was made and I was off on one of those why the hell not last minute adventures – a vacation with my parents.

The inn was lovely I’m sure, the food was good, the sight-seeing here and there not bad at all – a historical site, a vineyard, a museum.  No, these are not the details I remember the most. This is what I remember the most vividly about this lovely trip. I am the only person of my generation in the group. My parents and uncles and aunts are in their mid to late 50s. (Seems young to me now!) Everywhere we went and everything we did was accompanied by an endless running conversation about conditions, about illness, about drugs (and not any good kind of drugs, either), about doctor’s appointments, about surgery, about dentures. The first thing in the morning it was about being stiff and achy getting out of bed, when we ate the conversation was about cholesterol, when we walked it was about blood pressure, and heart attacks, in the evening it was about insomnia. It never stopped. Did I use the word endless yet? my doctor said I should walk more. No my doctor said exercise wouldn’t be good for me. I’m taking this drug for high cholesterol You are? My doctor prescribed this. Well, my doctor prescribed this and I have a friend who’s taking that. It went on and on and on and on morning to night for a week. I’m sure I can’t say I literally didn’t say a word for the whole week but I didn’t really have much to offer to the conversation. I was a perfectly healthy 20 something year old. What was there to say? Oh, uh, I had a cold last winter. Boy I sure did feel bad for a few days. Anybody else get a cold last winter?

So that’s the beginning of the story. I leave them there that group of 50-somethings blathering on and on about their health or the lack thereof. And the young woman with them rolling her eyes. And on we go to the middle of the story.

The middle of the story is just my life – finishing school, getting real jobs (and still quitting some of them), serious relationships starting up, serious relationships ending, siblings weddings, the death of grandparents, the deaths of aunts and uncles, the births of nieces and nephews,  buying houses, going on vacations, performance art, a black belt in kung fu, a marathon run, a book of poetry. The stuff of life, the lovely and dreaded thing called adulthood, and the apparent origins in my opinion of that lovely phrase ‘shit happens’.

And then about 10 – 12 years ago strange occurrences began to transpire.

First there was the time our whole family gathered for some holiday or another and my parent’s house wouldn’t fit all of us from out of town so my by now grown niece and nephew and their significant others were staying in a hotel down the road. We had eaten, we were laughing, drinking, reminiscing, we were having fun when niece and nephew said – we’re going to go hang out at the hotel. You all are just talking about a bunch of  people we don’t know and things we relate to. No big deal..wait a minute. I recognize this. The twenty-somethings are making their escape from the boring adults. Hey, we’re not boring! Are we?

Then after that something odd began to happen to mirrors and cameras. I’m still in here picturing myself looking the way I did when I was maybe not 20-something but maybe 30-something or 40. Seriously I had that face for so long I really forget I don’t have it anymore. I still do a double-take every time I look in the mirror and feel a little shocked to see a photo of myself that someone’s snapped. Who’s that old person with the bags under her eyes and the sagging jaw line standing exactly where I was when that picture was taken? Oh yeah….I forgot. I’m old.

So now of all the folks we left back there in Connecticut at the beginning of my story –  now my 91 year old father and his 87 year old brother-in-law are all that’s left.

And I will leave you now, step back out of this ongoing (one hopes) story with one last scene – 3 middle aged sisters of whom I am one around a kitchen table in my father’s house. We’ll just listen in for a minute at what they are we discussing so intently:

what 3 different doctors in three different cities said about osteoporosis, a dental implant, anti-aging skin care products, rogaine for women, my brother-in-law’s COPD, our brother’s heart, fish oil, calcium, mammograms, colonoscopies, Lipitor, thyroid medicine, bone surgery, OMG! We have become them!

And yet in a world without them there is some comfort to be had in this changing of the guard. Yes, today I am 62 and I tip my (invisible hat) to that old cliché – indeed it beats the alternative!

Carter Hawkins: When I Was a Kid

Below is the delightful lead-off story by Carter Hawkins at Tenx9 Nashville’s October event: “When I Was a Kid”

*     *     *

When I was a kid, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… seriously, I’m not kidding.

It was the summer after my fifth grade year, three days before my elementary school career was set to end, and I had just walked out of the theater, my entire mind blown by Return of the Jedi, and I suddenly knew how I would be spending every waking moment of my entire summer break.

So while all of my friends were playing backyard flag football or watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island, I was busily turning my entire upstairs bedroom at the end of the hallway of the house at 3826 Point Clear Drive into the command bridge of a Galactic-Class Starship, where for three months I would perform my duties as Captain, roaming the Universe, protecting Earth from evil alien invasions.  You’re welcome, citizens.

And before you turn to your table mates and knowingly roll your eyes and snicker, I have absolutely no problem freely admitting that I was “that kid”, the loner type who oftentimes preferred to live on his own little planet.

But that’s because I had something that most of the other kids in my neighborhood would not have recognized if it had stunned them like a phaser.

I had Imagination. Imagination so big that not even the boundaries of time and space could contain it, and for the months of June, July and August of 1983, I was NOT going to let my imagination go to waste.

Captain’s Log: Star date 011283 – It’s officially the first day of summer, and my mission to leave Earth has begun. I started by scavenging the garage for parts. Plywood, mostly. Some two-by-fours and nails. Some old wires and light switches. And Dad’s old recliner, which was about to become my new captain’s chair.

I spent the rest of the day hauling my supplies and some tools up into my quarters, and starting the difficult work of building my command bridge. It occurred to me that my bunk beds would make an excellent frame for the new additions I had planned, so without clearing a single thing with my superiors downstairs at Fleet Headquarters, I pushed the bunks to the center of the room, removed the sleeping surfaces, and began nailing and screwing the newly requisitioned parts to the frame. I positioned the captain’s chair, and used some heavy blankets to block out the light from my windows. By the time my mother came up to see what all the noise was about, I had the basic hull structure and floorplan pretty well finished.

That night I was invited to dine with my superior officers, Brigadier General Dad and Fleet Commander Mom . It would be the first of many such dinners, but this one had the potential to halt my entire mission before it even got off the ground. I had already prepared my defense with well-rehearsed lines about how important imagination and exploration were to the whole human race, especially to 11 year-old captains who had a daring mission to protect the less imaginatively gifted beings of the planet from impending doom.

Much to my surprise, my commanding officers allowed the mission to move forward, albeit with heavy supervision and regular progress reports. I informed them that there may be some off-world trips to the electronics salvage store that would have to be funded by Starfleet, and they even signed off on my budget. And just like that, the whole thing jumped into hyperdrive.

I spent most of June that summer rigging my ship. With some help from my Starfleet Father, I learned to use a jigsaw and a soldering iron. I learned that using 62 AA batteries taped end-to-end as the ship’s power source was a really bad idea, and thankfully only three of them exploded before the blast was contained. I had a viewing portal, two Atari joystick controls, one mounted to each arm of the captain’s chair. Red, yellow and green indicator lights, a warning alarm buzzer that didn’t sound like the one on Star Trek, but then again, it didn’t sound half-bad, either. There was a wrap-around control console complete with blinking lights and a Commodore 64 monitor, and most importantly, enough dials and switches and gauges to push, flip, turn, press and study to make any young Captain’s heart race with giddy delight. The ship was finally ready to pass inspection and embark on its first mission.

It was then that I made my first mistake. I enlisted my two younger brothers as my crew. I put them through a form of basic cadet training that mostly consisted of getting them to practice shouting, “Yes SIR, Captain, Sir!”. Yeah, you can imagine how well that went. All they wanted to do was run around with their fingers pointed like pistols, yelling “Aliens! Get ‘em! Pew pew pew! Finally, I wrestled them off the flight deck and down to the brig, where I explained to Fleet Commander Mom that- under penalty of DEATH- they were not allowed within a 15 light-year radius of my ship.

So instead of dealing with the hassle of a crew, I decided to install one last bit of advanced technology on board. I had a tape recorder, one of those old portable type cassette recorders which I know you’ve seen and used, and if you’re too young to understand what I’m talking about, then I am truly sorry, but I don’t have time to explain. Anyway, I decided to turn the cassette recorder into the voice of the ship’s computer. I spent hours writing scripts, stories, where I was doing battle with some never before seen species of alien, my ship taking damage, and me, trying to come out of it alive. It was a dialogue. I had my role as captain to play, and then I recorded the part of the ship’s computer in the best computer monotone I could muster. I meticulously timed out the lines, so that just as I was finishing delivering one of my captain lines, like, “We’ve sustained a direct hit to the starboard engines! We’re drifting right into the gravitational pull of the planet! Computer! Divert all power to remaining thrusters and bring us about!”

And the cassette tape recording of the ship’s computer would respond (if I timed it right) “Captain, all thrusters are offline. I have raised shields to maximum. Please brace for planetary impact in 10…9…8…7…”

Man it was intense! All these years later, I still get goosebumps just thinking about those adventures! I imagined worlds that would’ve made Gene Roddenberry himself wet his pants. Aliens so fierce and strange and ugly that they still sometimes show up in my nightmares.

But it never failed. Right at the height of the storyline, just when I was so lost in my own imagination that nothing from my present reality could have found me and dragged me back, I’d get the call…

“Carter? Are you in there? You missed dinner, Are you hungry?…”

It was my mom, standing outside my bedroom door, at the end of the upstairs hallway.

“Mom!” I’d protest… “C’mon! Say it right.” A few seconds would pass, then,

“KKhkk! Captain, we called you to the mess hall an hour ago. Your meatloaf rations are now cold. Kkhkk!”

(I made her do the little Kkhkk intercom sounds… I did! And she would DO it for me! GOD I loved that woman!

“Khkk! Anyway, i have a tray for you here. Do you want me to bring it in?”

“No! Don’t open the outside maintenance hatch! You’ll blow the seals and suck us all into the vacuum of space!”  Nothing but silence on the other side of the door…

“It’s okay Mom. I need some R&R after the mission I just completed. Tell you what, I’ll teleport down to the surface of the planet and eat my dinner at headquarters, that is if you’ll sit with me.”

“Kkhkk! That’s affirmative Captain. I look forward to debriefing you upon your arrival. Fleet Commander Mom out. Kkhkk!”

Before heading for the closet, which also served as the transporter room, I sat back in my captain’s chair, and as I flipped a few switches and powered down all main systems, I realized that one amazing and incredibly short summer was about to be over. I reminisced about the incredible journeys I had taken. It was an honor to risk my life in the service of my home planet. I almost hated to see it come to an end… But in just a few short days, I would be transferred to my new assignment.  My imagination had already started to paint a vivid picture of what I’d find when I arrived, and it was enough to make me shudder in terror.

Nonetheless, my ongoing mission remained unchanged: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no kid captain had gone before –

Junior High.